China Reading List
There have been many books written about all aspects of China, particularly in recent years. Here we list some of the best that we thinking reading will enhance your China travel experience and open up this unique country to the reader.
WILD SWANS - JUNG CHANG
20th Century history told through the the story of three generations of the same family. There are few books on China which bring the history to life and feel so personal with such ease and readability. Although it is very much focused on the story of one family the impression is that millions of families in China had the same experience. Real insight into a China that has only recently vanished.
RED CHINA BLUES - JAN WONG
An excellent book that covers the authors experiences in China in the 1970s when she moved there from Canada as a supporter of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The book charts a period that few have written about from a foreign perspective and charts here initial enthusiasm for Mao until her eventual disillusionment with hi policies as the damage they caused became apparent. Well written and full of anecdote.
RIVER TOWN - PETER HESSLER
Set in the remote town of Fuling in the Yangtze River Valley this best selling book charts the experiences of the author as a Peace Corps volunteer at a time when China was embarking on the immense changes of reform and opening up. Hessler’s experiences make for a superb read and when you realise that the changes that were going on in Fuling were replicated across the country a real understanding of this period is possible.
MAO: THE UNKNOWN STORY - JUNG CHANG
Another offering from Jung Chang, this is an in-depth study into the life of Chairman Mao. Well researched and based on interviews with those who knew and dealt with him. The book doesn’t flinch from exposing the brutality of Mao but is also charts his rise to power and the methods he employed to maintain it once he took over China in 1949. A shocking but essential read.
GOOD WOMEN OF CHINA: HIDDEN VOICES - XINRAN
Mongolia was pretty much closed to foreign travel until the late 1980s. Becker was one of the first to explore the country in detail starting his journey in Khubilai’s Khans old Mongolian city of Beijing and following a route deep into Mongolia. All this at a fascinating time of real change as the country made the wrench from a planned communist system to free market capitalism and fledgling democracy.
CHINA WAKES: NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Considered by many as the definitive book on China's often rocky transformation into an economic and political superpower. Written by two Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporters China wakes is an insightful and thought-provoking analysis of daily life in China at this time and is an exemplary work of reportage.
THE SEARCH FOR MODERN CHINA - JONATHAN D. SPENCE
One of the best books written to document modern Chinese history, Spence combines academic research with readability making this an important book that is surprisingly easy to digest given the weighty subject matter. The Search for Modern China offers a matchless introduction to China's history and offers up some superb background reading for any trip to China.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DYNASTIES OF CHINA - BAMBER GASCOIGNE
Everyone knows that China has a long history and we all have a picture in our minds when we think of China but in reality, the details of the history are relatively unknown. This book brings to life nearly 3,500 years of history by focusing on the principle characters of 8 of the dynasties. The book brings to life this great sweep of history fleshing out time with tales of war, cultural and artistic achievement up the the end of the last Dynasty in 1912.
THE CHINESE - JASPER BECKER
China began the 21st century as the world's largest surviving empire, a vast bureaucratic dictatorship with close to 1.3 billion people drawn from 56 different races. This book examines the people from the poorest in the countryside to the important families that run the country. In between are the mass of the population navigating the changes in society and he tries to identify the winners and losers of this transition.
CHINA ROAD - ROB GIFFORD
Running 3,000 miles from the eat-coast boomtown of Shanghai to the border of Kazakhstan in the north-west, Route 312 - China's 'Route 66' - is a road that Rob Gifford has always wanted to travel. Gifford's journey and his desire to get to the heart of this country make China Road an outstanding and funny travel narrative - part pilgrimage, part reportage - which illuminates a country on the move.
WOLF TOTEM - JIANG RONG
This is a compelling story set during the cultural revolution about a Beijing intellectual who volunteers to live in a remote and idyllic area of Inner Mongolia. His simple life here is shattered as people swarm into the region upsetting the natural balance and pushing the wolves that typified the resilience of life on the frontier and provide useful lessons on China’s development impact on the environment.
1421: THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED THE WORLD - GAVIN MENZIES
The little known or recognised story of the journey of the world’s largest fleet that set sail from China in 1421 with the mission “to proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas.” They sailed for 2 years circumnavigating the globe a century before Magellan, reaching America seventy years before Columbus, and Australia three hundred and fifty years before Cook.
RED DUST - MA JIAN
A travel book set over the authors three years of journeying through remote parts of China in the 1980s which was partly an escape from the surveillance and disapproval of his life by the authorities in Beijing. Ma Jian sets off to discover himself yet uncovers the endless contradictions China throws up from stunning landscapes and kindness to brutality and overdevelopment. One of the best travel books on China.